Off-campus UNL users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your NU ID and password. When you are done browsing please remember to return to this page and log out.

Non-UNL users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Seasons of presidential leadership: A mixed-methods study contributing to a theory on institutional cycles in higher education

Roger G Christensen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Studying higher education leadership is particularly useful when considered at different periods of an institution's history; the kind of leader needed to head a major college or university will be different during different time periods. An important factor in identifying a leader for any institution is finding one qualified to lead during a particular stage of institutional development. Neff and Leondar (1992) stated that deriving presidential criteria from an appraisal of an institution's present condition and future prospects was conventional wisdom in theory and largely ignored in practice. ^ Various writers have suggested understanding institutional cycles was important relative to changes in leadership; however, a definitive characterization or description of specific cycles did not exist in education literature. This study sought to develop a model for higher education based on life-cycle theory as illustrated in business models. Using configurations of institutional characteristics, this study considered various public, not-for-profit institutions over a forty-year period and provided a general framework for understanding the nature of institutional cycles for colleges and universities. ^ The general model developed for the study included seven periods across institutional life cycles: (1) formation, (2) development, (3) growth, (4) constancy, (5) decline, (6) renewal, and (7) dissolution. All institutions included in this study were founded prior to the beginning of the study period (1965) and all still existed at the end of the study period (2005); therefore, formation, development, and dissolution were not fully explored. The other four periods were evident in the enrollment patterns observed for the institutions included in the study. ^ Five general enrollment patterns were identified and defined: (1) Constant Growth, (2) No Growth, (3) Variable Growth, (4) Decline, and (5) Unstable. Those patterns resulted from of a variety of both internal and external factors which influenced the nature of each institution. Understanding institutional characteristics that contribute to those patterns may be useful in identifying the type of leader needed for a specific time and purpose. ^

Subject Area

Education, Administration|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Christensen, Roger G, "Seasons of presidential leadership: A mixed-methods study contributing to a theory on institutional cycles in higher education" (2007). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3273190.